In our Portland massage therapy program, we teach students how to use their hands and arms to heal others. Little in this world is as gratifying as delivering relief to another human being through massage. However, without the proper self-care, a massage therapy career may be interrupted by any number of soft tissue injuries, often in the upper body. There are two types of common massage therapy injuries: 1) Tendon/muscle injuries and 2) Nerve impingement injuries.
Common Injuries & Health Issues Among Massage Therapists
Overuse Syndrome is the most commonly diagnosed injury among massage therapists. It is a slow onset of pain that stems from cumulative stress to the soft tissues involved in giving massages. Oftentimes, therapists experience injury/re-injury cycles of overuse syndrome, and it may take a very long time (1-5 years) to fully recovery from an overuse injury.
Tendonitis & Tenosynovitis occur when the tendon and tendon sheath are inflamed. Tendon fibers tear under repetitive stress. Unlike Overuse Syndrome, these injuries tend to onset traumatically, not slowly overtime. Inflammation may manifest in body parts that are hot to the touch, and swollen.
Nerve Impingement happens when nerves are pinched by bones or other unyielding body materials such as fascia. The nerves of the hand and forearm can become entrapped at the shoulder, elbow, or wrist, resulting in tingling sensations and/or pain. For massage therapists, entrapment tends to develop into carpel tunnel syndrome (CTS) or thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS).
How to Avoid Massage Therapy Career Injuries
Don’t Overdo It. Just as you rely on clients to communicate their needs, you must listen to your body’s needs and honor them. Too much of a good thing (giving too many massages) can inflame your muscles and tendons, block nerve pathways, and leave you writhing in pain. Overuse of your thumbs, wrists, forearms and even elbows can lead to repetitive injuries. Before that twinge can turn into a full-blown injury, take some time off, limit the number of bookings you do, and set aside some quality “me” time. To lovingly serve your clients you must compassionately care for your own body.
Pay Attention to your Posture. TOS and other massage injuries often stem from improper alignment during therapy sessions. For instance, many therapists find themselves working in a rounded position, where the head is jutting forward and the shoulders are slouched. Over time, this posture can impinge nerves of the brachial plexus and lead to worsening symptoms. To develop a personal understanding of proper posture, we recommend yoga and other core-strengthening mindfulness practices.
Recruit your Whole Body when Giving Massage. In our Oregon massage school, students get plenty of hands-on practice delivering massages in our clinic. During this time, we encourage them to center from deep into the body. So, rather than relying only on the wrist, forearm, or elbow, let other muscles (arms, shoulders, all the way down to the core) share in the load.
Finally, be a health nut. The healthier you are, the better treatment you can provide to clients, and the fewer injuries you’ll suffer. Get plenty of exercise and rest. Pay attention to your own diet and how it might affect your readiness to give massage.
Students are attracted to our Oregon massage school because they’re looking for a rewarding, flexible career that will allow them to help others. And our Portland massage therapy program certainly provides all the knowledge and practice needed to kick off a successful massage therapy career. But to avoid injuries, therapists must take time to treat their own bodies well.